Zachary Anderson allegedly snatched 5-year-old Alayna Ertl after he had been invited the stay the night at the family’s home, killing the girl and dumping her body some 150 miles away just a few hours later.
The sad story of Ertl’s death played out this weekend, with the Minnesota girl going missing sometime in the early morning hours on Saturday after Anderson, a family friend, had been invited to stay the night at the Ertl home. Alayna’s parents woke up early on Saturday morning to find that the girl was missing along with Anderson, and that the family’s truck had been stolen, the Star Tribune reported.
This sparked an Amber Alert for Alayna and a massive search across Minnesota. Police were able to track a cell phone belonging to Alayna’s father, which had been left in the stolen truck, and found that it had pinged in a county about 90 miles away from the family’s home in Watkins.
Authorities found Alayna’s body in Cass County near Wilderness Park later on Saturday afternoon, but have not yet said how they found the girl or exactly how she was killed. An autopsy has been conducted and the results are pending, the New York Daily News reported.
Police are still piecing together the details of Alayna’s abduction, but believe that 25-year-old Zachary Anderson took the girl sometime after her mother put her to bed at 2 a.m., the New York Daily News reported.
Anderson was found by police in Cass County and arrested. Police said he was alone in a secluded area.
There are still many unanswered questions surrounding the abduction and murder of Alayna Ertl, including the potential motive. Police said that Anderson has no history of sexual offenses, and has little police record outside of some minor traffic violations.
“Our suspect in this case is a family friend, co-worker of the victim’s father, and was staying the night up in Watkins last night,” Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze said Saturday night (via the Star Tribune). “He had previously been to that residence and spent a night here and there — so he’s not a stranger and not new to the residence, but was just there for the night.”
After spending hours searching for the girl, Cruze said it was devastating for those involved that she was found dead.
Cruze told the Star-Tribune that her death was”obviously not the outcome that we wanted and when we did learn the information, the officers in the room, you could see… it weighed heavy on them. We tried everything we could today to find her safely and obviously that didn’t happen. And we know that it doesn’t compare to what the family’s going through right now, but we felt we did everything we possibly could.”
There is still some other controversy surrounding the murder of Alayna Ertl. There has been some criticism of how police handled her search, with the site Bring Me The News questioning why police waited three hours after receiving the report of her disappearance before issuing the Amber Alert.
Cruze told the news outlet that the Amber Alert has to be issued from the Minnesota Crime Alert Network, and only after a series of criteria have been met. Cruze said he contacted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at 10:30 a.m. to start the process of issuing an Amber Alert, which was 30 minutes after he was notified of the suspected abduction. The alerts were not issued until 1:30 p.m., the report noted.
Cruze said the circumstances of Alayna’s disappearance added to the difficulty regarding issuing the Amber Alert.
“We needed to ensure the child hadn’t just walked away, or gone to a neighbors’ house,” he told Bring Me The News. “It was an unwitnessed event which adds time to it, we needed to verify the identity of the suspect.”
Zachary Anderson is currently being held without bail in the Crow Wing County jail, facing charges of first-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of Alayna Ertl.
[Image via Meeker County Sheriff’s Office]